Bread and the Importance of Time

Bread and the Importance of Time

An interview with Johannes from the Schmidt family of bakers

After a long, busy night, surrounded by flour and delicious smells that can only come from an oven, Johannes Schmidt takes time to chat with us. What he stands for and what he tells us with enthusiasm and passion is a story about time: the time it takes for the dough to rise; the time, thanks to the work of six generations of bakers, that brought the Schmidt family to where it is today. The story begins with an ancestor who came to Lana from Augsburg, Germany around 1890 and opened the first bakery named after him. That craftsman’s business, whose mills at that time were powered by water from the nearby stream, evolved into the Schmiedl bakery. Over the decades, it has grown and expanded—currently, his father Hans and his siblings, Greta and Tobias, work in the company next to Johannes and pull the best bread out of the oven every day.
Johannes, let’s get straight to it: What does bread mean to you? 
Bread is probably the most symbolically significant food. The Bible already gives it a central meaning and importance for humanity. In recent years, however, it seems to have lost a little of its “charm” because for many people it is considered, among other things, a fattening food. That’s why it is so important for us to give bread back the value it deserves by baking select types of bread with special qualities. In the end, it is always a question of time: if we concentrate on a few varieties, we can give each loaf of bread the space and time it deserves. 

How important is family to you, now and in the past? 
We children grew up with the bakery, surrounded by bread, with that special scent in our nose. Our father always returned from work with his clothes full of flour and we always had fresh bread at home. As we grew up, we understood that besides these fond childhood memories, there is also responsibility and always new challenges and opportunities. Now that we children have returned home after different educational paths and now work side by side, the company has grown, also in terms of the number of employees. Therefore, it is very important for us to maintain and cultivate our relationship with everyone in the company as if we were one big family. 
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What is your relationship to your village Lana and its surroundings? 
The relationship with our origin is very good. We want to remain regional, our main home is in Lana; therefore, our area of operation reaches from Naturns to Bolzano. We always try to involve the community in our initiatives and to work together with charitable associations. We also cooperate with the Tourist Association of Lana and surroundings and have, for example, developed a typical Christmas pastry: the Apfelzelten (apple pastry). For all our baked goods with apples, we purchase the apples directly from the local fruit cooperative and can therefore select, peel, and process the fruit that we prefer in our bakery. This region with its wonderful natural raw materials is a great inspiration for us. 

But you were also abroad ... 
That’s right. I like travelling a lot and after my studies I went around the world for a year. Seeing new places and understanding how people there eat and live has opened my eyes. In each country, I looked at the typical bread specialities and I think that this knowledge influences my work to a large extent today. 
Research and experiment seem to be important elements of your work. 
Since 2013, we have relied on a long ripening and fermentation process in production, which has three advantages: digestibility, taste, and shelf life. Once again, it’s a question of time, at the end you always come back to this point. Lately, we have been working preferably with “lievito madre” (Italian sourdough), which we nurture and care for with devotion and attentiveness. This way, our bread lasts longer. I believe that this is a very valuable concept today, also in terms of sustainability.

One last question: What is your favourite bread? 
At the moment, I really like baguettes, which of course need time and patience—72 hours of fermenting—to reach maximum perfection: crispy on the outside and pleasantly soft on the inside.
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